Need to make outdoor sign

My friend asked me to make a small marker for a tree honoring his Dad. I suggested colorcore but his wife wants natural material…not plastic or strong colors. I’m about thinking laminating some cedar together to make a 5/4 board and finishing with several coats of marine varnish. I think it will be mostly in the shade, so fading from the direct sun should be at a minimum. Any ideas are appreciated.

You’re doing exactly what I would do. I also wouldn’t worry about sun beaching or color changing. Wood is wood and that’s what wood does. I think it’s part of the beauty of wooden pieces. Gives it character.

The varnish will peel and chip, even in the shade. If the wood can’t breath, the coating will fail.

You can oil it or give it some other similar finish that will penetrate but not completely seal. You can also use other wood species like white oak or teak which will weather well with no finish.

Experience based on a lot of outdoor fencing, decking, cabinets and furniture.


Worked for a few years building yachts for a famous Canadian designer, he insisted on not oiling or varnishing the teak on the boats exterior, it goes grey and is very stable for years to come.

Use hardwood decking. You’ll need to seal the end grain but it’ll last for decades. It’ll turn gray, like any other wood, but it’ll last.

Agreed. I tend to use air dried Ipe and Cumaru decking for outdoor projects. They’re good if a project doesn’t have fine embossed areas.

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I haven’t tried using Ipe or Cumaru on the 1F. Both of those tend to be hard and heavy. The silica content will wear down bits pretty quickly. I have used tigerwood with really good results. It tends to be easier on tooling and it looks nice. Advantage lumber is a good place to buy hardwood decking from. They have more than just decking boards. Things like handrails and 2Xs.

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Yeah, an Ipe sign could potentially require a helper to move, and you’d definitely want to use an upcut bit for profiling or it would likely snap. I rarely make signs, since I don’t sell stuff and don’t want signs all around my house. I tend to use Brazilian hardwoods more for stuff that requires stiffness, like mounts for pulleys/tensioners, or outdoor furniture. They hold up really well outdoors, either unfinished or with a coat of Ipe Oil or Peacock Oil (haven’t tried other finishes).

You can actually find some decent deals on cnc project materials from Advantage Lumber if you buy their decking cut-offs (3 ft or so), rather than longer boards.

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Has anyone of you tried milling signs in soapstone?
This is a relatively soft material that can be machined with woodworking tools.

I have wondered this as well. I just found someone on The Tube that showed carving into it, and the dust would definitely be an issue to consider for me. I wonder if using a misting nozzle like used when carving metal would mitigate that problem? Also, I think it’s kind of a soft material so durability may be a concern?

And now that we’re on the subject of stone material, there’s slate, but the sheer weight of the finished piece starts to become concerning.

Edit: where would someone get the blank soapstone material for carving?

Replying kind of late here.
I’ve made a few simple outdoor signs, for a wetlands preserve I volunteer at, where I used poplar painted, all around, with good quality latex paint. Some are still looking good after 5 years. One was scorched by a wildfire, and two were shot to splinters by vandals.
On my latest two signs I used an old edge glued 2x4 that I got from a structure we tore down.
For that on I used Valspar One Coat Transparent Stain and Sealer for the base. I then painted the top surface of the raised text with Behr pure white semi gloss exterior paint. If all goes well for these signs I think I’ll get 10 years of life out of them.
I also use Behr exterior semi gloss for the lettering. I donate the signs so I can take my time and hand paint the signs.
I have a recently purchased X-50 Woodworker for the Don’t Litter signs. The No camping signs were made on an X-Carve machine I used to have. I hope this helps.


Not for signs but I have made boxes & such out of it. Mills fine with carbide mills. I usually do engraving on the box tops at the same time and have had to be very conservative using v-bits, especially plunge rates or I lose the very pointy tips. Diamond bits are a good substitute.

Soft is relative when talking about stone :slightly_smiling_face: My projects are interior use focused so not sure what happens in something exposed outside but they’ve stood up well. They are breakable if dropped because the stone is more brittle than wood.

You can order it online, but locally I’ve found a couple of countertop/kitchen companies that specialize in soapstone countertops and buy their cutoffs. Typically no more than 2" thick, but soapstone can be glued up into thicker slabs and still milled.

It can be sanded using woodworking tools and for finishing I usually just use a mineral oil soak.

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In my part of the world soapstone is frequently used to retain heat in fireplaces. Firms that sell such fireplaces often have an assortment of tiles and bricks for sale.

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I have used purple heart. It is native to south america. I have read in its natural setting it can be used like we would use pressure treated wood in the PNW / Oregon as it is duralble in weather. Kind of pricey to use as a fence post here but I guess it is cheaper where it grows.

It is a hardwood that is durable and mills well but has natural oils that will burn if heat builds up. The color is purple at first and will stay purple if finished with UV protectant. But If left unfinished, my preference, It will turn an almost deep cherrry / walnut brown. The color changes quickly if left in the sun.

Teak or white oak would also be a good choice. Any of these could be left unfinished. all would have unique colorations and good durability in the weather. Of course, good durability may cost you a new bit by the time you are done. To honor the life of a loved one it is worth a bit or two.

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